Part 6: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Part 6: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

Postby alberich00 » Mon Apr 22, 2013 12:50 pm

[PH] Thanks to deducing logically what naturally would follow from Wagner’s construing Elsa as a metaphor for Eve, and combining this with the implications of my hypothesis that Elsa, as Lohengrin’s unconscious mind, offers him redemption from faith-destroying knowledge by offering to let him store the knowledge of his hypocrisy and fraud in her, his unconscious mind, and thus repress it so he need not be troubled by it, and can therefore effectively forget who he is, I was able in my 8/93 paper to propose not only that Elsa’s breach of Lohengrin’s demand for unquestioning faith was Wagner’s metaphor for the Feuerbachian transition from the era of religious faith, to the secular era of modern science and art (which, especially in music, took over religion’s former task of granting man at least the feeling of having transcendent value). I was also able to demonstrate that Wotan’s acquiescence in Bruennhilde’s request to hear his confession of what he said would remain forever unspoken (i.e., secret knowledge), was what taught Wagner how to create Siegfried, the hero who doesn’t know who he is, and therefore feels no fear of the truth, because Wotan stored his fearful, fatal self-knowledge in his daughter Bruennhilde through his confession to her, and Bruennhilde holds this knowledge for Siegfried to protect him from the unhealing wound it would inflict upon him if it were exposed to the light of day, i.e., if Siegfried became conscious of it. And of course, this made Elsa the muse who inspired Wagner’s transition from traditional opera to revolutionary music-drama, since in music-drama, it is music, the language of the unconscious, which redeems man from the terrors of conceptual thought, i.e., Wotan’s confession of unbearable self-knowledge:


[PHss]
[PH: ELSA IS THE REVOLUTIONARY BECAUSE SHE DESTROYS RELIGIOUS FAITH IN ORDER THAT SHE CAN BECOME THE SECULAR ARTIST-HERO’S LOVING MUSE OF INSPIRATION]

[PH] [P. 34] “Elsa, as Eve in paradise, had called upon her knight to help her compensate us and thus atone for giving us fatal knowledge, by inspiring in her knight a deed. This deed is the redemption of the world from knowledge, through love (feeling). Thus will Bruennhilde inspire Siegfried. For Elsa had shown Wagner that Wotan, ‘religion’, must vanish, in order to make way for – let’s acknowledge it – the artist, Siegfried:

' … this woman … , who goes from worship to love precisely by the outbreak of her jealousy, and reveals this nature to a hitherto uncomprehending man by her downfall; this glorious woman from whom Lohengrin must vanish because of his inability to understand her from his own specific nature – I had now discovered her: and that random arrow I had shot at the target I had sensed but not known was there was in fact my Lohengrin, whom I had to give up as lost if I were to find the certain path to the truly feminine that would one day bring redemption to me and everybody else, after the masculine egotism, even in its most exalted form, had broken in self-immolation in the face of it. Elsa, the woman, … made me a revolutionary in one stroke. She was the spirit of the Folk to which I, too, as man and artist turned for my redemption. (6-8/51 ‘Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde’; Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen; p. 301-302)”

[PH] In the following passage Hoeckner suggests Elsa is a model for Bruennhilde, in the sense that where Elsa rebelled against Lohengrin’s injunction and asked him the question he forbade, Bruennhilde rebels against her father, the god Wotan. He also adds that Wagner’s gendered eschatology (the metaphor Nattiez had pointed to in Wagner’s prose works from the early 1850’s, in which man stands for drama and woman for music), can be applied to our analysis of the hero and heroine in Wagner’s mature music dramas, and even perhaps in “Lohengrin.” But Hoeckner, as one can see when comparing his thesis with mine, evidently doesn’t suspect the full sense in which Bruennhilde is modeled on Elsa, since he hasn’t grasped the other half of the equation: i.e., Hoeckner grasps that Lohengrin’s refusal to share his secret with Elsa in loving union represents in some sense “Lohengrin” as a metaphor for the failure of traditional opera to offer man redemption, since drama and music remain separate thanks to Lohengrin’s refusal, but Hoeckner doesn’t see that where Lohengrin failed, Wotan succeeded, since he did share with Bruennhilde the unspoken secret of his divine “Noth,” or anguish, which he couldn’t bear to speak aloud (i.e. to his conscious mind), therefore speaking it instead to his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, where it would remain a secret even from him, in his reincarnate form, Siegfried (i.e., Siegfried is Wotan reborn minus consciousness of his true identity and history, which is known for him by his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde):


17. BH: ELSA’S BREAKING FAITH WITH LOHENGRIN WAS A MODEL FOR BRUENNHILDE’S REBELLION AGAINST WOTAN

[##] [BH] [P. 248] “Wagner’s gendered eschatology, which tends to rely on female agents, ‘would find’ its fulfillment in Bruennhilde, who rebels against Wotan’s world. Already in the letter to Hermann Franck, Wagner conceded that he should have made Lohengrin’s participation in the catastrophe clearer, so that all the guilt was not placed on Elsa. Perhaps [P. 249] having projected the conclusion of the ‘Ring,’ Wagner could read Elsa as a precursor of Bruennhilde, even though her self-destruction is non-redemptive.”

[PH] Here, in my 8/93 paper, I analyzed Lohengrin’s fear of the truth, fear of exposure, in preparation for linking it with Wotan’s fear of the end of the gods, i.e., his fear that the gods’ rule is predicated upon unconscious self-deceit and will eventually be overthrown by Alberich’s confrontation of the gods’ - that is to say, mankind’s - self-delusion, with the bitter truth, that man is alone, and that man invented the gods to console him/herself for the anguish of life, and death:


[PHp]
[PH: ELSA’S DOUBT OF LOHENGRIN IS BASED PARTLY ON HER INSTINCTIVE RECOGNITION THAT HIS PROHIBITION AGAINST SHARING HIS SELF-KNOWLEDGE WITH HER IS BASED UPON FEAR, NOT LOVE]

[P. 15] “But she’s filled with doubt. Why, she must wonder, should her love for Lohengrin depend upon the fearful maintenance of a breakable taboo? Could Ortrud’s warning that Lohengrin might leave her be true? Also, if Elsa did, figuratively speaking, kill Godfrey by giving him God’s forbidden knowledge, [P. 16] mustn’t she know Lohengrin perjures himself for her sake, and that his magic depends upon deceit, as Ortrud said? Since falsehood must ultimately fail when confronted with truth, maybe Ortrud was right to suggest the salvation Lohengrin offers is only temporary. If Lohengrin depends on deceit, we can understand Frederick’s complaint that while he is free to proclaim his true identity, Lohengrin is not (LOH Act 2 Sc 5) Lohengrin’s vulnerability, his dependence on a breakable taboo sanctioned by fear, seems to imply he’s not divine.”

[PH] In the following passages from my 8/93 paper I prepared the ground for my hypothesis that Elsa’s offer to redeem Lohengrin by keeping his private “Noth,” or anguish, a secret, even from him, is Wagner’s metaphor for the transition from religious faith, which depends on fearful maintenance of a taboo against freedom of inquiry, to secular art, and especially music, in which the religious origin of man’s desire for transcendent value and meaning is kept a secret, religion’s (false) claim on the truth forsaken, in favor of secular art, which makes no demands upon the truth, but expresses man’s religious longing for transcendence through feeling alone:


[PHii]
[PH: IF THE TRUTH CAN DESTROY FAITH, I.E., IF THE RELIGIOUS DEMAND FOR UNQUESTIONING FAITH MERELY EXPRESSES COVERT FEAR OF THE TRUTH, WHERE THEN CAN HUMAN BEINGS FIND SOLACE?]

[P. 27] “But if religious faith in spiritual transcendence can’t abide truth, what are we to do? What can we do if Lohengrin deprives us Folk of redemption?:

'THE KING, MEN AND WOMEN: Woe! That you must leave us, you noble man, whom God sent! If Heaven’s blessing is to leave us, where then shall we find solace? O stay!' ”

[PH] And here I took note of Wagner’s recognition not only that construing God as nothing more than Nature under another name (i.e., recognizing that God is only distinguished from nature, and from that special part of nature, man, by virtue of man’s artistic imagination)', was potentially fatal for religious faith, and thus considered blasphemous, but also that for this very reason, man can only preserve what religious faith once gave him, now that man lives in a modern, scientific age, within secular art. Thus the mortal Godfrey must supplant Lohengrin, and Siegfried the artist-hero must supplant Wotan and the gods:


[PHcc]
[PH: THERE IS DANGER FOR RELIGIOUS FAITH IN ACKNOWLEDGING THAT GOD IS ONLY NATURE, BUT IF SECULAR ART REPLACES RELIGIOUS FAITH AS A GIVER OF VALUE, THIS ADMISSION NEED NOT BE FATAL]

[P. 23] “Wagner recognized both the unity of God and nature, and the blasphemy involved in revealing it:

' … a recollection of Aeschylus’s chorus (the female hare and the eagle) causes him to remark on the nobility of this outlook, and he feels it was things like this that might have led to accusations of blasphemy against Aeschylus, the connection between holiness and Nature was probably at the bottom of [P. 24] the Eleusinian mysteries. In our times, R. continues, religion should seek to influence ethics, and allow faith to be represented by art, which can transform illusion into truth.' (11/14/79 ‘Cosima Wagner’s Diaries’; Vol. II, p. 395)

Curiously, Wagner seems to hint that art can do what religion, bound by a fearful taboo on knowledge, can’t do: affirm the unity of holiness and nature. Maybe art can redeem religion as Elsa’s earthly love redeems Lohengrin’s sterile loneliness!”

[PH] In the following extract from my 8/93 paper I proposed, by way of explaining how Elsa could atone to Lohengrin for asking him the forbidden question which destroyed religious faith, what I only learned later was Feuerbach’s thesis, that secular art has the advantage over religious faith that it doesn’t stake a claim to truth and therefore, unlike religious faith, need not censor freedom of inquiry or forbid the acquisition of knowledge. Art is therefore free from fear, in the sense that the secular, mortal artist-hero Siegfried is free from the god Wotan’s fear (of the end of religion, the twilight of the gods):


[PHll]
[PH: ELSA’S ATONEMENT TO LOHENGRIN FOR UNDERMINING RELIGIOUS FAITH IS THAT THE ART SHE, AS THE ARTIST HERO’S UNCONSCIOUS MIND AND MUSE, WILL INSPIRE HIS REDEMPTIVE ART, WILL, UNLIKE RELIGIOUS BELIEF, STAKE NO CLAIM TO THE TRUTH, A CLAIM WHICH, ONCE MADE, CAN BE CONTRADICTED BY OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE]

[P. 29] “What this [PH: Elsa’s] form of atonement must be is difficult to fathom, but we may justly surmise it musn’t be as vulnerable to exposure as ‘chaste’ Lohengrin’s illicit love for Elsa was. Perhaps her atonement won’t be vulnerable to truth because, unlike Lohengrin’s religious faith, it won’t make a claim on the truth which might be refuted. When Lohengrin asked Elsa to ‘feel’ rather than to ‘think’ his noble identity … , and to keep silent, he described this atonement! What is it?”

[PH] In the following passage Hoeckner quotes the passage from “A Communication to My Friends” in which Wagner states that Lohengrin does not desire worship from Elsa, but instead, human love: in other words, Lohengrin wishes in some sense to shed his alleged divinity in favor of mortal human life, the earthly, so to speak, which is a key point not only of Feuerbach’s critique of Christianity’s world-renunciation, but was also a key point of my 8/93 paper:


18. BH: IN HIS ‘A COMMUNICATION TO MY FRIENDS,’ WAGNER TELLS US THAT LOHENGRIN DESIRED HUMAN LOVE FROM ELSA, BUT DID NOT DESIRE TO BE WORSHIPED AS A GOD

[BH] [P. 249] “In any case, as a result of Wagner’s shift towards Elsa, Lohengrin appears in a new light:

[#] [BH] ‘Lohengrin sought the woman who would believe in him: who would not ask who he was or whence he came, but love him as he was and because he was as he appeared to her. He sought the woman to whom he need not explain, nor justify, but who would love him unconditionally. Therefore, he had to hide his higher nature, for precisely in not uncovering and revealing this higher – or more correctly: heightened – nature lay his only guarantee that he was not adored and wondered at, or humbly worshipped as something incomprehensible, because of his very nature, whereas his longing was not for worship or adoration, but for the only thing that could redeem him from his loneliness, and quench his desire, - for love, for being loved, for being understood through love. With all his senses, with his fullest consciousness, he wanted to become and be nothing other than a full, total, intensely feeling, and intensely felt human being; in a word, a human being, not God, i.e., absolute artist.’ “

[PH] Wagner fully concurred with Feuerbach’s notion that what the religiously faithful call heaven is really just a product of the human imagination’s compensating man for his suffering and eventual death, by unconsciously inventing an “other world” called heaven, a divine realm in which the formerly mortal, earthbound human, once redeemed, can live a purified, divine existence freed from earthly pain and the terror of death, an immortal life. In the passage from Wagner’s writings I chose below for my 9/83 paper, Wagner makes it clear he considers Christianity’s offer of paradise to be an illusion, and an expression of hypocrisy, since there is no other world but only this world, and all pain, but also all bliss, can only be enjoyed here (which is why Lohengrin seeks compensation for the lack he feels in his allegedly divine bliss, in the earthly, substantial love which only Elsa can provide):


[PHj]
[PH: WAGNER CONSTRUED THE CHRISTIAN PROMISE OF MAN’S REDEMPTION IN PARADISE AS SELF-DECEPTION AND HYPOCRISY, BECAUSE HE DIDN’T BELIEVE IN GOD OR THE SUPERNATURAL, BUT BELIEVED INSTEAD THAT WHAT RELIGIOUS MEN CALL HEAVEN IS MERELY AN IMAGINATIVE PROJECTION OF EARTHLY, BODILY DESIRES AND FEARS]

[P. 8] “Wagner often insisted that Lohengrin was a pre-Christian figure co-opted by Christianity, and on this subject of redemption from our only world in ‘other worlds’, he said:

‘The really perplexing problem … is always how, in this terrible world of ours, beyond which there is only nothingness, it might be possible to infer the existence of a God who would make life’s immense sufferings merely something apparent, [P. 9] while the redemption we long for is seen as something entirely real that may be consciously enjoyed. This may not be a problem for philistines – especially for the English variety: the reason they get on so splendidly with their God is because they enter into a contract with Him, according to whose terms they have to fulfill a certain number of contractual points, so that, finally, as a reward for various shortcomings in this world, they may enjoy eternal bliss in the world to come. But what do we have in common with such vulgar ideas?’ [6/7/55 Letter to Franz Liszt; ‘Selected Letters of Richard Wagner’; P. 344)”

[PH] In my following remarks from my 8/93 paper, I suggested that it is in fact Lohengrin who seeks redemption through Elsa (specifically, redemption from dependence upon the illusion of spiritual transcendence, since only real, physical love can compensate him for what he loses in leaving his imaginary heavenly Grail-realm), at least as much as she seeks redemption from the charge of fratricide, which prompted Lohengrin to come to her rescue. I also noted here that Lohengrin’s redemption seems to consist in covertly smuggling the earthly into his divine realm, to give it the substance which, as an illusion, it lacks. Thus Lohengrin had to break the vow of Chastity, or Celibacy, he made to become a Grail knight, who allegedly has renounced all things earthly, in spite of the fact that according to Wagner himself there is only the earthly, and nothing else:


[PHy]
[PH: DOES GOD OR THE REDEEMER (FROM THE EARTHLY) NEED REDEMPTION? YES, BECAUSE GOD, AND THE RELIGIOUS CONCEPT OF REDEMPTION FROM WORLDLY THINGS AND DESIRES AND FEARS, IS AN ILLUSION; MAN ALWAYS RESTORES TO HIS CONCEPT OF REDEMPTION IN PARADISE THE VERY EARTHLY BLISS WHICH HE ALLEGEDLY RENOUNCED IN SEEKING PARADISE; I.E., MAN DOESN’T RENOUNCE EARTHLY BLISS, BUT ONLY EARTHLY ANGUISH]

[P. 20] “Were Elsa’s suspicions true? Did Lohengrin need redemption through her as much as she needed redemption through him? What could the chaste Grail realm, where no mortal footsteps tread, need? What could God need that only mortal woman can provide? Could God need redemption? Could the redeemer need redemption? Lohengrin thinks so! He even implied he must flee lest this very question, this doubt, lead to irredeemable consequences. For he’s subtly revealed the hidden cause for his prohibition on knowledge, and in so doing answered our questions: in order to redeem us, a chaste Grail knight has broken his vow of celibacy. Is there any doubt? Let’s ask Wagner:

'Lohengrin: … The Grail’s chaste service did my heart disown. But having turned from God in love’s excess, atonement and remorse must I endure, for ah! the shameful sin must I confess of deeming woman’s love divinely pure!' (3/30/46 Letter to Hermann Franck; ‘Selected Letters of Richard Wagner; p. 131)

Having quoted here from part of the LOHENGRIN text he didn’t set to music, Wagner goes on to say that 'I think it should be sufficient for the audience to deduce from what Lohengrin says that the bonds of earthly love are, strictly speaking, unbecoming for a knight of the Grail.' So it would be indelicate [P. 21] for a knight of the Grail to publicly reveal he’s broken his oath of celibacy. In other words, it’s okay to sin if you don’t tell! For Lohengrin, questions of sin versus purity seem to depend on our knowledge or ignorance, as Ortrud said.

How can Lohengrin break his vow of celibacy? Wagner says:

'Renunciation, repudiation of the will, the oath of chastity separate the knight of the Grail from the world of appearances. The knight is permitted to break his oath through the condition he imposes on the woman – for, if a woman could so overcome a natural propensity as not to ask, she would be worthy of admission to the Grail. It is the possibility of this salvation which permits the knight to marry.' (3/1/70 ‘Cosima Wagner’s Diaries’; Vol. I, p. 194)

It seems as if Wagner’s confirming our suspicion: apparently it’s okay for a celibate knight of the Grail to have sexual union if no one finds out about it. But what do we have here: sexual union with the will in nature, the world of appearances? Sexual union as here described is eminently metaphysical, a union with mother nature herself. Here again we seem to find support for our contention that Ortrud and Elsa are both ‘nature’ as grasped distinctly by Frederick or Lohengrin.”
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